Search and Celebration

I was looking through William W. Austin's Music in the 20th Century: From Debussy through Stravinsky (New York: W. W. Norton, 1966) and I came across this passage regarding Bela Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion and Music for String Instruments, Percussion and Celesta (p.323):

The differences between the two great works with percussion are as remarkable as the similarities. The Music for Strings is like a search, poignant and thorough; the Sonata for Two Pianos is like a celebration, festive, mysterious at times, playful often, and gloriously affirmative.

It seems as if we must categorize works of art, since there are two types of people, those who divide the world into two types of people and those who--well, you know the rest. As readers of this and other blogs know, the concert music world is full of conversations and controversies centered on divisions of musical repertoires based on such characteristics as style, compositional techniques, and even whether pieces are "simple" or "complex".

None of these categorizations really gets at the reasons we write, play, or listen to music and truth be told, they are often as not used to deny intellectual and artistic space to the music of the "other side" of the categorization and its supporters.

Of course, few pieces will fit simpy or wholly into either the "search" or "celebration" category. Even so, it seems to me that the ideas behind these categories could, with some expansion and explication, prove useful in probing the connections between pieces that seem on the surface to be unrelated. This would be far more beneficial to our art than spending our energy on pointing out differences that are more superficial than they are substantive.


  1. Anonymous1:07 PM

    If there's a category for "celebration," shouldn't there also be a category for "mourning"? Requiems and whatnot?

    I don't see why/how these "search" and "celebration" can be the only two slots in any categorization scheme -- always assuming that's what you meant.

  2. Right, Judith. These two categories are just a start.